Trout Farming For Hobby Farmers

Hobby farmers looking at income potentials should take a look at small-scale, earthen pond, trout farming. Here is what you need to know.

Five to ten acre hobby farms near urban centers have become very popular in the last twenty years. A rare few make enough income for the farmer to cover his overhead. Others, even more rare, turn a modest profit.

Many hobby farms are regarded more as an investment in land rather than a potential working operation. If a working operation may be part of the agenda, combined, say, with only moderate capital outlay, and minimum work, trout farming offers a good prospect for income.

Commercial trout farms are capital intensive, utilizing multiple tanks, elaborate filtration systems, computerized marketing, and automatic feeding devices. Interestingly, one major commercial operation now producing 1.5 million pounds of fish annually, started a few years ago with four inflatable swimming pools in an unused hog barn.



The earthen trout pond

The earthen trout pond is a reasonable, manageable operation. The critical factors are water supply and waste. The first, and its exchange flow rate will determine the fish capacity of your pond. This is always calculated on the basis of full-grown fish, not fingerlings. Your local county may have regulations around the use of public water and disposal of waste water which may need to be satisfied. Many hobby farmers are able to tap their own wells or springs for sufficient water. In some places, where supply is an issue, recycling systems can be obtained which will support up to ten re-uses before replacement.

Pond capacity

Pond capacity can be calculated in two ways. If the water exchange rate is more than thirty minutes, according to Jeffrey Hinshaw of North Caroline State University, capacity is determined by "measuring the dissolved oxygen concentration of the pond and outflow waters and maintaining good production records." Capacity, then, is a function of the ratio surface area, inflow rate, and oxygen demand of sediments. For example, ten gallons per minute( gpm) inflow @100% oxygen saturation, would carry 1000 pounds of ten-inch trout. If the oxygen supply drops to 85%, the capacity drops to 850 pounds.

The second method, the density index, is perhaps easier. Without factoring water flow, permit 4.5 pounds of mature fish per cubic foot of water. Then presume a waste temperature of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stocking

Stocking is most economical if fingerlings are purchased from a hatchery. Four-ounce fingerlings are about the normal size. Over-ordering by about 15% is realistic, based on 5% loss during introduction to your pond, and 10% loss over the course of maturation.

Feeding

The amount of food is determined by body weight and water temperature. The warmer the temperature, the more food trout eat, mindful that temperatures over 65 degrees Fahrenheit and under 38 degrees inhibit growth. The fish should be fed daily. The fingerlings require a diet richer in protein and fat than that for mature fish. The food is most economically obtained from a manufacturer, who also usually provides recommended feeding charts.

Marketing

Marketing can be done in several ways. More gregarious hobby farmers invite pay-as-you-catch anglers to try their luck in the pond, or sell live at the farmgate. Others sell live to stores. Finally, the entire harvest can sometimes be sold to a processor or wholesaler. A point to remember: if fish are to be shipped live, they should not be fed for three or four days prior to shipping.

The biggest headache for the operation of a trout hobby farmer may be monitoring the feeding regimen and maintaining production records, both elements of any operation involving livestock. On the upside, earthen ponds are normally not capable of wintering fish, giving the hobby farmer some time off, perhaps to go south for a holiday.

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